Srebrenica Genocide Denial in the Light of Psychoanalysis

The fundamental premise underlying the discourse of the Serbian establishment regarding Srebrenica is the assertion that it did not constitute genocide. Everything else that the prevailing public opinion in Serbia and Republika Srpska articulates on this topic serves, at best, only to soften this fundamental claim, making it sound less malevolent. For instance, during his recent visit to Mostar, the Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic spoke about the announcement of the UN resolution, stating that a terrible crime occurred in Srebrenica. However, he does not actually mean to emphasize the occurrence of a terrible crime; rather, his statement rather implies the denial of genocide.

The phrase “terrible crime” would carry a different connotation in a different context. For example, in his famous statement, confirming the indictment against Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić in November 1995, Judge Fouad Riad of the Hague Tribunal described the events following the fall of Srebrenica as a “terrible crime,” depicting “scenes from hell written on the darkest pages of human history”.

Given that Judge Riad confirmed the indictment for genocide against the leaders of Republika Srpska, thereby initiating the criminal proceedings that would ultimately result in final judgments, including for that criminal offense, the phrase “terrible crime” in his statement carries no problematic implication. The same applies to all other instances when prosecutors and judges of the Hague Tribunal, as well as all others who acknowledge the genocide, describe the events in Srebrenica as a terrible crime.

However, it is evident that this phrase takes on a completely different meaning when spoken by Aleksandar Vučić, who does not acknowledge the genocide. In that context, “terrible crime” no longer refers to an actual heinous act, but rather subtly implies a denial that genocide took place in Srebrenica.

“I don’t think the terrible massacre in Srebrenica was genocide,” stated Ana Brnabić, the former prime minister and current president of the Serbian Assembly, during a conversation with German journalist Tim Sebastian in 2018. When presented with excerpts from judgments of international courts, Ana Brnabić reaffirmed her opinion, describing it as a terrible crime. “I don’t believe it was genocide. I see it as a terrible, terrible crime,” she said.

The ancient Romans observed that when two people express the same sentiment, it doesn’t carry identical implications. The significance differs when a judge from The Hague uses the term “terrible crime” compared to when Serbian officials employ the same phrase. For the Hague judge, regarding Srebrenica, genocide and a terrible crime are intertwined concepts, whereas for Vučić and Brnabić, a terrible crime does not equate to genocide; rather, it serves as a subtle means to deny that the events in Srebrenica constituted genocide.

Just as the phrase “terrible crime” doesn’t signify a horrendous offense, but rather “was not genocide,” everything else that the Serbian establishment asserts about Srebrenica reinforces their fundamental thesis that it was not genocide.

For instance, the President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, recently expressed his readiness to visit the Memorial Center in Potočari and lay flowers at the memorial. However, he promptly asserted that “no genocide was committed there,” indicating that the act of laying flowers, ostensibly to honor the victims, would serve to downplay the central thesis (that there was no genocide in Srebrenica). The intention appears to be to cloak the denial of genocide in a more civilized guise, granting it legitimacy (which is why the decision of the Srebrenica Memorial Center leadership to prohibit this is entirely justified).

Everything within the discourse of the Serbian establishment, every sentence, every phrase, every comma, serves the fundamental premise of denial. This aligns with what Jacques Derrida refers to as the transcendental signified, to which all other meanings within an ideological system are subordinate.

What’s intriguing is that the discourse of the Serbian establishment regarding Srebrenica begins with the negative. In ideological systems, it’s customary to begin with what they perceive as the foundation of everything. For Plato, this foundation is the idea; in Christianity, it’s God; in Marxism, it’s economic antagonism; for Nietzsche, it’s the will to power, and so on.

In the discourse under consideration here, the absolute starting point lies not in what exists, but in what does not. Denial forms the foundation of everything.

Regardless of what is discussed about Srebrenica, the Serbian establishment consistently focuses on what did not occur. They acknowledge a terrible crime but deny genocide. They express intentions to lay flowers and pay tribute to the victims, yet deny it was genocide. While Serbia extradited Karadžić and Mladić to the Hague tribunal, they still deny it was genocide, and so forth.

What does this signify for us?

In a brief text from 1925, entitled Negation (German: Verneinung), Freud notes that some of his patients have a tendency to begin with denial in their efforts to uncover the contents of their unconscious.

When asked about about a figure from their dream, one patient responds that they don’t know who it is, but then adds: “It’s not my mother.”

“So, it is his mother,” Freud promptly concludes. If it genuinely wasn’t about his mother, she wouldn’t have sprung to mind.

But why does the patient then deny it?

Freud suggests that in such instances, denial serves as a means to reveal what is deeply suppressed. What appears unattainable to the obsessive neurotic is, in fact, a precise depiction of their state. According to the father of psychoanalysis, what has been brought into the realm of consciousness is still being emotionally rejected because it is unpleasant.

“To negate something in a judgment,” Freud writes, “is, at bottom, to say: ‘This is something which I should prefer to repress.’ A negative judgment is the intellectual substitute for repression; its ‘no’ is the hallmark of repression, a certificate of origin, like, let us say, ‘Made in Germany’.”

The ego, he concludes, rejects what contradicts the pleasure principle. The patient denies that the person from his dream is his mother because acknowledging it, especially if the dream contains incestuous content, is so discomforting that it feels impossible. However, the unconscious effectively safeguards the information that it is indeed the mother.

Therefore, as Freud emphasizes, he devised an unconventional method. To delve deeper into the content that is deeply repressed, he would pose the question to patients: “What do you consider the least likely?” If they were ensnared, patients would invariably disclose what they had repressed in the guise of denial.

When discussing Srebrenica, the Serbian establishment consistently focuses on what did not occur there, as accepting the uncomfortable truth is difficult, almost impossible for them.

The paradox lies in the following: precisely when Srebrenica is mentioned, the word genocide springs to their minds first, accompanied by immense discomfort, evidently so overwhelming that they compulsively assert “it was not genocide,” inadvertently exposing to a discerning observer what is truly transpiring. Freud, it seems, would have discerned from every “there was no genocide in Srebrenica” that it actually implies there was.

HARIS IMAMOVIC – @SkenderVakuf

Sosyal Medyada Paylaş


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